The 35 Most Iconic Caper Movies, Ranked

Perhaps a writing prompt or two.

From Crime Reads:

Here it is—the other half of our endeavor to evaluate movies about large-scale theft! This is the accompanying list to our recently released ranking of the 50 most iconic Heist movies. We wrote at the start of the Heists list, “We will be releasing an accompanying list of the Best Capers shortly after this one, so if you don’t see a film with a great heist in it, keep your shirts on, because it’s probably on the other list” and this is that list. Ta-da. These two lists were written at the same time, so this is not some sort of amendment to the first list. It is the other half you’ve been waiting for!

Why are there two lists? Because the Caper is a sub-genre of the Heist film with its own specific rules and mood. Looking at each category of films (Heist versus Caper) specifically allows for more thoughtful ranking experience, between them. The Caper sub-genre features films which are (overall) lighter and wittier than the standard Heist movie. While characters in Capers also frequently pursue large sums of shadily-acquired money or other items of value, these films are not necessarily about the acts of committing robberies, as Heist films always are. This is important, so I’ll repeat it: for a film to be a heist movie, items have to be literally stolen. In a caper, items may be stolen, but they don’t have to be; there can be swindling and cons and money-laundering and other forms of theft. Not all con movies are capers. For example The Hustler is not on here, nor is Fabián Bielinsky’s Nine Queens, perfect examples of “Con” movies that are neither Heist nor Caper.

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What else really makes a Caper different from a Heist? Unlike the traditional Heist movie, which is usually a slick, deft, high-octane practicum, a Caper can be madcap, zany, as well as, on a different note, extremely romantic or flirty. The Caper is where you’ll find clever banter, silly sidekicks, gags, slapstick, and things generally going hilariously wrong. It’s also where you’ll find, more often than not, men in well-fitting suits who can’t be trusted or other sexy cat burglars, and tons of romantic tension. These movies are hardly gritty, they’re frequently not about the underworld. If they are, they’re funny as a result. Generally speaking, in terms of tone, if the Heist is a stomp, than the Caper is a romp.

When a movie is remade, sometimes it will move from Heist territory into Caper territory, or vice versa. Remakes like The Ladykillers, The Italian Job, and The Thomas Crown Affair occupy different categories than their originals and are therefore on different lists. As with the Heists list, keep in mind the criteria we’re using: we’re looking at the most iconic movies in this category, and we are ranking them from “worst” to “best.”

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26. The Truth About Charlie (2002)

I wish this remake of Charade, starring Thandie Newton and Mark Whalberg, lived up with what Thandie Newton deserves from this world, but it doesn’t. Cameos include Agnes Varda and Anna Karina, and those are very charming.

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21. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

Michael Caine and Steve Martin are two rival con men in a race to see who can swindle an American heiress out of her fortune, in this rollicking comedy set along the French Rivera. Apocryphally, David Bowie and Mick Jagger were supposed to star in this movie which would have been… a different film entirely. A classic: put it on and you’ll put on the ritz.

20. Charade (1963)

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Charade, as much as I am often entertained by many Stanley Donen movies. Maybe it’s because I’ve just never gotten the appeal of late-career Cary Grant or because Charade is too slow for a film whose Saul-Bass-designed credit sequence promised would twist and whip along. If I enjoy it, I enjoy it for the presence of James Coburn and especially for the casting of Walter Matthau as an exhausted, sardonic American bureaucrat stuck in Paris, but anyway… Audrey Hepburn is about to divorce her husband when she finds out he’s been murdered. Turns out, he was CIA, but more than that—he was part of a group who secretly stashed stolen money during WWII, and after he dies, all his old buddies assume Audrey Hepburn knows the actual location of the treasure, and come after her. George Kennedy chews the scenery nicely as one of these visitors, a loud assassin with a hook for a hand.

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11. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

This remake of The Thomas Crown Affair ditches its predecessors grasp on neo-noir and swaps it out for sexy intrigue. One of two art-theft-related romantic suspense movies to come out in 1999, Thomas Crowne stars Pierce Brosnan as a wealthy playboy who steals art for fun, and Rene Russo as the cunning detective on his case. It’s suave and sexy without being too heavy. It’s actually probably the perfect film to watch right now. Such an escape.

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5. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks are teenaged con man/forger Frank Abignale Jr., and uptight FBI agent Carl Hanratty (respectively) in this perfect cat-and-mouse caper from Steven Spielberg, which is equal parts fun and devastating. Tom Hanks is overdoing it on the Boston accent, yes, but once you get past that, the relationship between hunter and hunted becomes almost as enjoyable as watching young Frank slip in and out of various snags. Also, why Christopher Walken didn’t win an Oscar for Supporting Actor is beyond me. Must of slipped right off his neck. (Actually, I confess, it’s not beyond me… that category was insane that year! Paul Newman for Road to Perdition? Chris Cooper in Adaptation? Ed Harris in The Hours? John C. Reily in Chicago? I just really wanted to make that joke.)

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2. How to Steal a Million (1966)

Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole light up the screen in this perfect little caper, about a young Parisian woman who disapproves of her jolly father Hugh Griffith’s penchant for art forgery. He’s an impeccable imitator of the Great Masters, and makes a pretty penny from selling them, but when he loans a priceless statue forged by his father to a museum for an exhibition, he finds out that the statue will have to be examined in order for it to be given its $1 million insurance protection. Knowing that an examination will expose her family’s history of art crime, she decides to steal it back from the museum, somehow. Only, since she has had no interest in a criminal lifestyle until now, needs to enlist the help of sexy cat burglar Peter O’Toole to help. The heist they pull off is one of the cleverest ones I’ve seen onscreen. And the scene where Audrey Hepburn sees Peter O’Toole for the first time, when he’s peeking out at her over the frame of the painting he’s swiping, and his eyes are super blue and when he puts it down it’s revealed he’s wearing a tuxedo… no better meet-cute in the history of cinema.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Nobody ever agrees with ranked lists of “Best” whatever.

PG will opine that Charade should be ranked much higher, however.

There are photos for each movie at the link. Plus a list of Iconic Heist movies – The Thomas Crown Affair is #9.

3 thoughts on “The 35 Most Iconic Caper Movies, Ranked”

  1. This is a really weird list. Why include films a “iconic” when the writer says that they are no good (and some of them are pretty much trash, and not even terrible enough to qualify as “so bad that it’s good”).

    I think PG is a better critic than Ms. Olivia Rutigliano who clearly has a thing about age differences. “Charade” should definitely be much higher – as for that matter should “To Catch a Thief” – but her top ten are not a bad selection: I’d happily sit through almost all of them if they pop up on TV (well as long as it’s an advert free channel).

  2. Now I’ve got more movies to add to my queue 🙂

    “To Catch a Thief” should be higher up. For a while when I was growing up, PBS would show classic movies every Friday night. Doris Day, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn — I never knew the old stuff was so much fun until I saw their movies, especially “To Catch a Thief” and “How to Steal a Million.” I always swoon over their clothes; they don’t make them like that anymore!

    Not a caper movie, but Doris Day’s “Midnight Lace” just came in the mail today; it’s finally available in America. It’s a “neo noir” thriller about a newlywed who’s being stalked in London. Her husband and everyone thinks she’s crazy, and she starts to wonder … London’s fog makes a nice cameo in one memorable scene. Just a recommend for anyone looking for old school popcorn flicks.

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